Watching the world go by through the bus window, it all looked very different unreal somehow. Being accustomed to solitude, Tom didn’t talk to anyone on the bus ride, but looked at each person square in the eye as they came and went passed him. Not that there were many people seeking a conversation, they seemed to steer clear of him and his oddly flat expression. The day wore on into night when at last the bus pulled into his town.
Only a few yards from the bus stop, Tom was headed for the motel down the road; then a familiar voice from behind began calling his name. Cringing as he turned to see that he was right, it was his old chum Gus. Ignoring his gut feeling, Tom figured there was no harm in having a few drinks at the bar, even get the latest scoop from Gus. In five years someone might have beat him too the punch. Couple hours and too much booze later, Tom stumbled into the diner across the street, with a black eye and a busted lip. Had to get in from the cold and rain, sober up and wait out the night; he’d go at the first sign of light and get the deed over with and be out of town by mid-day.
The waitress liked him from the get go, with that vulnerable look on his face all messed like he was. He could tell from the moment she looked at him; holding him in her gaze a little too long. They both seemed to recognize something was instantly between them, her face flushed a soft shade of red and then she blinked and showed him to a booth at the far end of the room. Her name was Violet she had a small frame with curves in all the right places. Dark eyes with a smile in them, and her dark hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail.
She was a good girl who trusted her instincts that Tom was a decent guy. Violet tended to his lip with a wet napkin to stop the bleeding; leaning closer to her than was necessary he pushed his luck and brushed his hand over her slender arm. Feeling the gentle touch of her hand and softness of her skin was imprinted on him as he inhaled the sweet scented perfume from her hair. The surge of adrenaline made him keenly aware of this woman’s entire body as he looked at her. Was he a stray dog to her? He wondered, needing her help rather than a bum as her boss Pete the owner of the diner said when he saw Tom huddled in the booth.
More than a few words were exchanged while she served him a sandwich and coffee. Tom tried not to show his increasing attraction as he pressed her for answers to his not quite polite questions. Violet had been in town a year almost, met a couple of girlfriends at the beauty parlor and the other waitress’ were swell but there was no fella in her life. Violet was a cautious girl, born and raised on a farm north of town. But when her Pa died they had to sell the place and her mother went to live with her older sister out West who married a cattle farmer. Violet didn’t much care for her brother-in-law so she moved into town; her sister sent her a small allowance to keep her afloat. They wrote every week, letter’s back and forth kept her up-to-date with the family; now so far away. One day maybe she’d visit when she had saved enough to take care of herself and stand on her own two feet, an independent type.
Tom was grateful for the waitress’ kindness, sure she was a looker but he couldn’t let himself get sidetracked from his mission; revenge. He could pay for coffee and a sandwich but not much else. Tom planned on staying one night in town; settle the score then collect his savings from the bank in the next town and head out West. In this state when they released a guy from prison they gave him a few bucks to pay for a months worth of food and rent. He’d gone and spent almost all his dough on booze and smokes while on his walk down memory lane with Gus; a stupid indulgence. Tom knew he needed the rest of his cash to buy a gun and bullets in the morning, first though he needed to sober up.
During the hour Tom spent in the diner, a handful of regular customers came in; mostly truck drivers. Pete the cook and owner of the diner yelled over to Tom and tell him not to let the door hit him on the way out. “This isn’t a flop house buddy, buy something else or hit the bricks! The next time I come out of the kitchen I don’t want to see you chatting up my waitress unless you got a piece of pie on your fork!”
Tom stood up and nodded as Pete returned to the kitchen then looked over at Violet as he threw a couple bucks on the table. She walked over as Tom reached the door, “Thanks for the coffee and the company. Looks like I need to find another diner to take up space in, you wouldn’t happen to know of any close by?” Violet shook her head then stepped close to Tom, “No sorry but there isn’t anything open at this hour except Pete’s.” A look of loss flashed in Tom’s eyes for a second. “I can see you’re in a jam. You don’t have anywhere to spend the night do you Tom?” He shook his head, “Haven’t worked that out just yet, but don’t you worry your pretty head about me. I’ll find a park bench or something.”
Violet pulled on his arm and led him quickly to the other side of the diner through a door marked ‘employees only’ it was not much bigger than a cloakroom but there was a table and two chairs. “This is where the waitress’ take breaks and change from street clothes into our uniforms. Since I’m the only one on the night shift tonight you can stay in here until early morning, another few hours. If I get the chance I’ll bring you some more food. Don’t worry, Pete won’t come back here.”
Tom was grateful, “thanks you’re a real doll.” For the first time she saw him smile. A big warm smile too.
Tom passed the time playing solitaire with the pack of cards on the table, and sure enough Violet snuck a little food to him. He could hear everything that went on in the diner from his little hide away, and there was a big clock on the wall for him to watch but no window. As it was coming up to 6am he thought Violet would be back any minute to let him know if the coast was clear for him to slip out. There was an exit door to the parking lot just down the hall outside the room. But as he listened for her footsteps he heard the jingle of the tiny bell on the front door a few times and loud male voices talking and moving around.